Ghostbusters (1984)

Ahead of the release of Ghostbusters : Afterlife we decided to dive back into this classic. Join us!

If you’d asked me as a kid what i wanted to be when i was older, online nerd commentator was not on the list. That particular list would have went Ghostbuster, Cowboy or Astronaut in that order. As i grew older i learned of the rigorous training involved in the dangerous field of space exploration. As well as Northern Ireland’s lack of a space program. So that was that one out. The old west had long been settled, and coupled with my dislike of guns and horses in the real world (and not on screen) i decided to put that one to bed…

That left my first choice : Ghostbuster. Given that i’d watched the film around 100 times, owned the Commodore 64 game and wasn’t “afraid of no ghost” i considered this as my best option. It’s with this initial naivety in mind that i sit here some years later, honoured and middle-aged reviewing this classic franchise.

Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters (released the same day as Gremlins in 1984) opens with the Columbia Pictures logo and that distinct soundtrack that has become a trademark of the films quieter, tension-building scenes. Spooky, theremin-infused tones giving way to grandiose strings. It’s difficult to grasp the franchise from this alone. Is it a horror film?As a viewer in 1984 it would be difficult to know what to expect upon seeing this for the first time. A comedic cast aligned with Saturday Night Live and comedic films but a genuinely eerie opening 2 minute segment before the title.

The theme and logo are now iconic and recognised across the globe. Without the setting of the film the theme tune (by Ray Parker Jr) comes across as campy and cheesy, but in the setting of the film it gains reverence and earns its time and place. This is Ghostbusters. You are watching Ghostbusters now.

There’s a scene in which Venkman is conducting an experiment with 2 students (based on the Rhine experiments and Milgram experiments) and a set of symbol cards – he claims his study involves “the effect of negative reinforcement on ESP abilities”. We see that after a number of shocks (the aforementioned negative reinforcement) the male student begins to guess the cards correctly, reinforcing any ESP abilities that may have been dormant. In previous viewings i had assumed Venkman was just being a bit of a creep, but it’s possible this was a factor of the experiment. Something to bring up over Christmas dinner….

We’re introduced to the Ghostbusters in the most typified way to possibly distill their character: Venkman, the mouth and sleazeball, is hitting on a girl (during the experiment). Stantz appears, the heart, puppy-dog-excited about a science thing (bursting into the room and interrupting Venkmans experiment). Spengler, the brain, nose-deep in sampling and collecting data (on the library floor). Zeddemore, the muscle and straight talking joe (interviewing for the job and ready to believe anything for a “steady paycheck”). In another franchise this might seem clunky or ham-fisted, but here it works beautifully to set these characters up and clears away the need for lengthy backstory, character building and exposition – we meet these characters on their terms and in their natural habitats.

Travelling back to my childhood again, i recall the scene in the library legitimately scared me. I had to look away when the librarian revealed her ghoulish form prompted from my older brothers warning of “the scary bit is coming”. Now that i’m older and can enjoy this sequence i confess that i absolutely adore it. The build-up is atmospheric and sets the mood for the rest of the film.

Ghostbusters 1984 film review crazydiscostu

Cast

By the time Ghostbusters had rolled around much of the cast has already cemented themselves in some form or another:

Bill Murray, having been a Saturday Night Live cast member in 1975 he went on to the likes of Caddyshack (1980), and Stripes (1981) – both having been written by Harold Ramis (Egon) who had already proven himself in 1978 with Animal House. Murray would ad-lib scenes and improvise much of his lines during the filming of Ghostbusters.

Christopher Walken, John Lithgow, Christopher Lloyd, and Jeff Goldblum were all considered for the role of Dr. Egon Spengler but it went to Harold Ramis based on his understanding of the character. It is reported that he felt no-one else could portray it correctly.

In 1980 Dan Akroyd had cemented his legacy alongside John Belushi as Blues Brothers. Akroyd had originally written the role for John Belushi but it had to be recast after Belushi’s death in 1982. The part of Slimer was seen as a tribute to the late Belushi and was frequently referred to as such.

The roles of Venkman and Spengler were offered to Michael Keaton who turned them down. Chevy Chase also turned down the role of Venkman, as did Steve Guttenberg who turned it down to star in Police Academy (1984). Tom Hanks and Robin Williams were both considered for the role but ultimately it went to Bill Murray whose renowned flakiness left the filmmakers initially anxious about his involvement.

Jay Leno read for the part of Louis Tully. It’s been reported that John Candy turned down the role because his ideas for the character were rejected, going on to put Rick Moranis forward as a potential casting.

Rick Moranis had previous success with Strange Brew in 1983 but it took for his involvement in Ghostbusters to really propel his career. Moranis is absolute gold in all of his scenes here, simultaneously smoothing the flow and taking over the screen time. His performance fills these scenes with an energy that no-one else could ever possibly replicate. It’s worth noting that when Louis Tully is chatting with his party guests about the price of salmon, that this scene is not only one continuous shot, but almost entirely improvised.

Julia Roberts auditioned for the role of Dana Barrett but it went to Sigourney Weaver. Weaver became the Xenomorph-ass-kicker that we all know and love in 1978 and took on the role of Dana Barrett to expand her portfolio. She looks stunning and plays the role extremely believably, sometimes straight laced but multifaceted and serves to ground the film, anchoring it.

Ernie Hudson (arguably the hardest working member of the cast) had already appeared in the likes of Taxi, Diff’rent Strokes and The A Team. His filmography is staggering in the wake of Ghostbusters. The character of Winston was originally written for comedian Eddie Murphy but due to a scheduling conflict Murphy was unable to take the role. That conflict was called Beverly Hills Cop.

William Atherton suffered greatly from his performance as Walter Peck, which can only show how wonderful his portrayal was. Atherton would report that members of the public would try to fight him in bars and one day he was even verbally assaulted by a group of school kids shouting “Hey, dickless!”. It’s this same energy that led him to being cast as Dick Thornburg in Die Hard (1988).

Ghostbusters film review crazydiscostu ghostbusters afterlife

Conclusion

I talked at length about the importance of this film in my piece on 2016’s Ghostbusters : Answer The Call and i think this excerpt sums it up perfectly:

“In 1984 Columbia Pictures released a film that (on paper) shouldn’t have worked. A new horror comedy devoid of the genre-stylized campness that made it’s predecessors so successful. It was a box office hit that spawned a sequel, a cartoon and countless amounts of merchandising. Having cemented itself in cinema history and in the hearts of its fans, this family favourite film stood the test of time and even managed to age gracefully in the process.” – CRAZYDISCOSTU.COM

Ghostbusters is the story of 3 scientists taking their findings and adapting them into a functioning business model. The business side of this film goes a long way to selling the premise to the audience. This is something that the writers (was there writers????) of 2016’s Ghostbusters : Answer The Call couldn’t quite grasp – the original Ghostbusters had stakes at play – emotional and financial stakes with professional repercussions. The team had to make this work, they had come to a career deadend, disgraced by their expulsion from the university. Ray was financially invested in the business by remortgaging (3 mortgages) the house his parents had left to him, his connection to them. In the terms of a viable business model, Venkman can see the franchising and branding opportunities alongside the obvious service element of the concept.

“For whatever reasons, Ray, call it fate, call it luck, call it karma. I believe everything happens for a reason.”

“Back off man, i’m a scientist”

“Listen! You smell something?”

“I think we better split up”. “Good idea”. “yeah, we can do more damage that way”.

“We came, we saw, we kicked its ass”

Ghostbusters is one of my all time favourites and an absolute gem of cinema. With any luck Ghostbusters : Afterlife can take these elements and introduce them to a new generation….

Ghostbusters film review crazydiscostu poster 1984

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